Non-Essential Journeys #24
Tim’s last article Do as I say, not as I do has been one of the most popular ever run by the NYE, no doubt reflecting public concern over Police Officers that endanger the public by flouting the Coronavirus Lockdown Regulations. In that article Tim posed the question:
“Why can’t the people of North Yorkshire have the same standards of openness, discipline, integrity and accountability upheld by The Met?”
The Editor has asked Tim to follow up on this question and he discusses it in the article below.
Challenging and Reporting Improper Conduct the Winward Way
By TIM HICKS
There have recently been a series of exposures in the national press of Police Officers breaching the lockdown regulations in the UK.
One citizen commented on this as follows:
“I find the regular, continued flouting of social distancing, and lockdown regulations by the Police hypocritical and foolish at this time.”
This demonstrates the strength of public feeling over this issue and how offensive it is for the public to see Police Officers blatantly flouting the regulations, while enforcing them on other people.
I am pleased to report that the response of police forces outside the North Yorkshire Police (NYP) force area to breaches of the lockdown regulations by Police Officers has been swift, impartial and effective. Some examples:
(1) Five Warwickshire Police Officers who breached the regulations by attended a barbecue caused an outbreak of coronavirus at their Police station which affected six of their colleagues. A spokesperson for Warwickshire Police said:
‘In May 2020 Warwickshire Police identified that five police officers, whilst off duty, may have breached the Covid-19 regulations which were in place at that time. ‘In such circumstances with members of the public, the retrospective issuing of fixed penalty notices was not undertaken, with the force preferring instead to follow the national approach of all police forces at that time which was to explain the regulations and encourage compliance.
However, recognising the importance of the role we have in protecting the public during the pandemic, we take all allegations of breaches by staff extremely seriously and as such all the officers were subject of a formal investigation and subsequent internal disciplinary proceedings.’
(2) Nineteen Metropolitan Police Constables were fined for breaching the Lockdown Regulations by having breakfast together.
The Metropolitan Police issued this statement to the NYE:
Nine Metropolitan Police Officers have been fined for breaching Covid-19 legislation while on duty.
Photos emerged online earlier this month which appeared to show a group of uniformed officers from the South East Basic Command Unit (BCU) dining in a local café.
Following an investigation, it was determined that the officers involved should be issued with fixed penalty notices to the value of £200 each.
Chief Superintendent Rob Atkin, South East BCU Commander, said:
Police officers are tasked with enforcing the legislation that has been introduced to stop the spread of the virus and the public rightly expect that they will set an example through their own actions.
It is disappointing that on this occasion, these officers have fallen short of that expectation. It is right that they will pay a financial penalty and that they will be asked to reflect on their choices.”
Full coverage in my article Do as I say, not as I do.
(3) Thirty-one officers from the Metropolitan Police have been fined £200 each because they arranged to have haircuts at Bethnal Green Police Station. The two Officers that organised this illegal gathering have been given misconduct notices. They cannot be fined £10,000 for a ‘large gathering’ because the offices were called into the room where the haircutting was taking place one by one, so not all the officers were in the same room at the time and the fine was not applicable. The Metropolitan Police issued this statement to the NYE:
Officers facing fines after breaching Covid-19 regulations
Earlier this month, the Met received an allegation that a number of officers had their hair cut by a professional barber while at Bethnal Green police station. The incident happened on Sunday 17 January.
A local investigation was launched and it has been decided the 31 police officers who had their haircut should each face a £200 fixed penalty notice.
Two officers, who were involved in organising the activity, have also been identified and notified they are under investigation for misconduct.
Local policing commander, Detective Chief Superintendent Marcus Barnett, said:
“It is deeply disappointing and frustrating that my officers have fallen short of the expectation to uphold Covid-19 regulations. Although officers donated money to charity as part of the haircut, this does not excuse them from what was a very poor decision. I expect a lot more of them.
It is right therefore, officers should each face a £200 fine, as well as misconduct action for those two who organised this event.
Quite rightly, the public expect police to be role models in following the regulations which are designed to prevent the spread of this deadly virus. I hope this action proves that police are not immune to enforcement of the rules, and we are prepared as an organisation to take action if we see officers have behaved irresponsibly.
As the barber was invited into the police station by officers, he will not be issued with a fixed penalty notice.”
(4) Two Constables from the West Midlands Police verbally abused and arrested Mr Nino Romano aged 21 while he was on his way to work. The officers falsely asserted that the lockdown regulations gave them power to arrest him because he did not give them his details. Quoted in this BBC report containing video of the incident West Midlands Police apologised for the treatment Mr Romano had received and said the Officer’s actions were “unacceptable” “[The officer’s] manner was not acceptable, not the face of [the force] and we will deal with the situation.”
I would additionally point out that this incident confirms how important it is that the police are filmed and photographed, so that misconduct is exposed and standards of behaviour are maintained.
(5) Chief Superintendent Wylie of the British Transport Police (BTP) was accused of misconduct, for travelling to Yorkshire from Glasgow. There was a full investigation which exonerated him. Full statement from the BTP here.
(6) This BBC article describes two ladies who were fined £200 each because the police alleged they were “not within the spirit of the regulations”. They had travelled five miles by car to take exercise by walking at a reservoir. The police alleged that they were attending a picnic, because they had a cup of coffee with them. This BBC article describes how they felt intimidated by the police. Happily, following media criticism, their fines were withdrawn by Derbyshire Police. This demonstrates the importance of the police being subject to media scrutiny, and that the police should respond reasonably and openly to complaints. Thereby maintaining public confidence.
In my opinion all of these forces come out of these unfortunate and regrettable incidents very well. They responded openly and promptly to public concerns by taking disciplinary action where appropriate. This demonstrated that Police Officers are treated the same as everyone else. They then issued a full and open statement to the media, in accordance with the overwhelming requirement to keep the public informed, address local concerns and maintain the public’s confidence and consent to be policed.
Breaches of the Lockdown Regulations by Police Officers in North Yorkshire
So what is the situation in North Yorkshire?
Sad to relate there have been a series of incidents of Police Officers in North Yorkshire which appear to me to breach the spirit and letter of the lockdown regulations. Unlike other forces however, no action has been taken against them:
- Three officers from Cleveland Police visited Whitby, parked up on the Fish Pier and were all seen having a wonderful time sitting on the same bench in the sun, feasting on fish and chips from one of Whitby’s finest purveyors of the same, in full view of the public. The photograph below shows from the proximity of the bikes to each other that they did not observe social distancing. They then accepted an invitation from a cleaning lady to look around a holiday cottage, again not observing social distancing. Full coverage in my article Do as I say, not as I do. Needless to say, had the cleaning lady been infected, one or more of the officers would probably have contracted the virus, spread it to each other, then all of their colleagues in the station and members of the public they encountered in the course of their duties. Exactly the same scenario as the Warwickshire officers.
- One of our readers recently photographed two officers from North Yorkshire Police (NYP) in York who were openly wandering around without masks and ignoring social distancing at the Clifton Moor shopping centre, York.
- Chief Constable Lisa Winward undertook a visit to Selby Police Station, thereby risking spreading the virus from Selby into Force Headquarters.
- Deputy Chief Constable (DCC) Phil Cain visited Scarborough Police Station, thereby risking spreading the virus from Scarborough Police Station into Force Headquarters. While he was there he posed for photographs with a long serving officer without masking up or observing social distancing.
Obviously it is deeply regrettable that Police Officers should appear to publicly flout the lockdown regulations or unnecessarily risk contracting the virus, at a time when officers of North Yorkshire Police are arresting members of the public and fining them for committing similar offences.
The response of NYP to alleged breaches of the Coronavirus Lockdown Regulations by Police Officers
In every case involving concerns of overzealousness or breach of the regulations by Police officers from Police forces other than North Yorkshire Police, the force concerned has come forward and promptly issued a full statement either:
(1) Defending the actions of the Officer.
(2) Admitting a mistake, apologising and rectifying the wrong that was done.
(3) Accepting the concerns are valid and punishing the officers concerned for the offences they have committed, in the same way as members of the public would be. Which upholds the overwhelming principle that we are all equal under the law.
Compare this to the response of NYP to alleged breaches of the Coronavirus Lockdown Regulations by police officers in the NYP force area. Two examples should suffice:
The Three Cleveland Police Motorcycle Officers
I reported local concerns about the three motorcycle Police Officers from Cleveland to Chief Constable Winward and her response dated the 12th of June 2020 was very carefully and skilfully worded:
“In relation to your queries about the three motorcycle officers from Cleveland who were seen in Whitby, I feel that your questions may be better directed towards Cleveland Police, and so you may wish to contact them for further information. In respect of any offences being committed in North Yorkshire Police area, social distancing is not a crime or an offence and is not legislated for in the Covid regulations. It is health guidance and not enforceable by the police.”
Please note Chief Constable Winward did not state that the case has been investigated and there is no case to answer.
Nor does Chief Constable Winward address the issue that Police Officers have an overarching duty to set an appropriate example, look after their health and do everything in their power to avoid contracting Coronavirus. This is because their duties bring them into contact with the public and there is a risk that they may infect them or their colleagues as with the example of Warwickshire Police above. In summary, although in the absence of any comprehensive response from NYP I could be wrong, it appears to me that there is a valid case for misconduct against all three officers and although this has been reported to Chief Constable Winward, she has not obtained any resolution or taken any action.
The Clifton Moor Shopping Centre fiasco
It appeared to me that the two officers pictured in the Clifton Moor incident represent a threat to the health of their colleagues and the public, so I immediately wrote to Superintendent Walker (Gold Commander for NYP’s response to the pandemic) notifying him of local concerns raised with the NYE and asked him to have both officers interviewed and ordered to wear masks, and socially distance themselves.
This was in the hope that this would prevent these officers becoming infected and then infecting members of the public, Police Officers and Police staff at Fulford Road Police Station, with the associated risk to their families. In short, it was in the public interest and in the best interests of the Police Officers at Fulford Road Police Station, York.
I had a response from Ms Beth Foster of the NYP Executive Support Team as follows:
“Dear Mr Hicks,
Thank you for your further email. If you do wish to pursue the matter further and register a formal complaint, please see our website for details of the process to follow – Complaints and compliments – North Yorkshire Police | North Yorkshire Police
Collar Number 4629
Executive Support Team
North Yorkshire Police
Committed to the Code of Ethics”
Please note the last sentence:
- “Committed to the Code of Ethics”
This is very important and requires some explanation.
Police Officers have a duty to challenge and report improper conduct by their colleagues under the College of Policing Code of Ethics requirements for:
- Honesty and Integrity generally (1).
- Conduct (9).
- Challenging and Reporting Improper Conduct (10).
This is a duty on the Police themselves, not on the public. Should they fail to do this, they commit an offence of Misconduct.
Commendable examples of senior Officers immediately intervening and executing their duty to challenge and report misconduct are the two incidents quoted above, where Metropolitan Police Officers were alleged to have breached the lockdown regulations. As soon as it became clear that misconduct may have occurred, both Detective Chief Superintendent Marcus Barnett and Chief Superintendent Rob Atkin took immediate action in accordance with their duty under the Code of Ethics. They did not require a complaint from a member of the public to take action.
Yet so far as I can tell, the response of the NYP Senior Officers in the Cleveland Police Motorcycle Officers and the Clifton Moor incident was to ignore their duty under the Code of Ethics for themselves to challenge and report improper conduct.
Instead they apparently did nothing and told me to make a complaint. I feel I should point out at this point that I am not a Chief Police Officer, it is not my job to run North Yorkshire Police, maintain Police discipline or uphold the Code of Ethics. Chief Constable Winward and her colleagues are all paid an awful lot of money to perform these functions.
The case of the three motorcycle Police Officers from Cleveland Police quoted above is classic. Chief Constable Winward’s duty under the code of ethics is clear and she must be aware of it. She had a duty to either a) order an investigation by NYP, or b) report the matter to the Chief Constable of Cleveland. In my opinion she should also have issued a statement to the media, to reassure public opinion in the same way that other forces have done. Instead she did nothing.
In summary, no senior Officer of NYP has issued any public statement, or – so far as I can tell – taken any action over the above allegations of misconduct by the Officers under their command. Although they all have a duty to do so.
This appears to me smack of double standards and failure to apply the law impartially. Or put another way, there is one law in North Yorkshire for the Police and one for everyone else. Despite the fine sounding “Committed to the code of ethics” statement at the end of Ms Foster’s e mail, the reality is obviously very different and somewhat farcical.
This may be why it appears that no other Police force in England and Wales has had the same number of allegations of contravention of the lockdown regulations in its force area by Police officers as NYP. Certainly, none of them have a Chief Officer accused of this, let alone both of its most senior officers.
NYP compared to The Met
Returning to the question mentioned by the editor in the introduction to this article:
“Why can’t the people of North Yorkshire have the same standards of openness, discipline, integrity and accountability upheld by The Met?”
In my opinion there are a number of reasons for this:
- The Senior Officers of North Yorkshire Police are not committed to open policing, accountability and the requirements for ethical conduct contained in the Code of Ethics. Nor do they have any understanding of modern media relations. The case of the Cleveland Police motorcycle officers’ is a classic example.
- Officers of NYP have an intense and commendable loyalty to their force and a determination to uphold its reputation. This would normally be commendable, but can become misplaced, leading to a determination to supress investigations that may lead to adverse publicity and damage to the force reputation. The NYP response to the Jimmy Savile/Peter Jaconelli scandal exposed by the NYE is an example of this.
- Police Officers develop intense personal friendships and loyalty, which can transcend rank. Again, this would normally be commendable, but can become misplaced, leading to a determination to close ranks and protect Officers from criticism that is well founded, but made by outsiders or journalists. This can lead to a culture of impunity amongst some Officers, where they believe that they are free to contravene the lockdown regulations without fear of any penalties. The Clifton Moor case is probably an example of this. However, in itself this does not explain the current situation. The above factors are coupled with:
- For years, those charged with holding Chief Constable to account have not done so. Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan is very good at issuing fluffy “on-message” media statements. Can anyone remember the last time she criticised the Chief Constable, or North Yorkshire Police?
- Other than the NYE, the media in North Yorkshire does not hold the police to account. Whereas because London is the capital, the Met are subject to oversight by the national media, which is much more influential.
- The police regulatory body the Independent Office for Police Conduct is ineffective and does not robustly challenge police misconduct. The odds of obtaining a successful complaint outcome are stacked against the complainant. This again contributes to a culture of impunity amongst police officers.
NYE Appeal for Information
If you become aware of a public figure or police officer breaching the lockdown regulations, please photograph or video him/her and make a note of the:
- Registration number of their vehicle.
- If possible, their rank and Police collar numbers.
- Other circumstances.
Then inform the NYE using the email@example.com email. The NYE will pay a reward for these photographs in accordance with standard journalistic practice.
Police Officers are authority figures and resent being confronted with their own misconduct. This video here shows a member of the public confronting Police Officers that were blatantly breaching the coronavirus regulations. Incredibly they admitted this, became incensed that someone had the nerve to point out their misconduct, verbally abused him, then closed up to him without face masks.
To prevent any unfortunate confrontations, the NYE has written to Chief Constable Winward asking that a force wide message is issued notifying all officers that:
- The NYE is offering a reward for photographs of police officers breaching the lockdown regulations. (In the absence of any effective action by the NYP Command Team, I hope this will deter further infractions and save lives).
- The National Police Chief’s Council Guidance on dealing with “auditors and bloggers” is that unless they have a genuine reasonable suspicion that they are being photographed for the purposes of terrorism, they should not interfere with or question members of the public who photograph them.
However, nevertheless, if you do photograph a Police Officer breaching the regulations, we think it may be unwise to tell them they have been photographed breaching the regulations, that you are claiming the NYE reward on them and thanking them for their help.
Please just send the information to the NYE at the above email address. All information received will be treated in the strictest confidence.
Right of Reply
If you are mentioned in this article and do not agree with the views expressed in it, or if you wish to correct any factual inaccuracy, please let me know using the firstname.lastname@example.org e mail address and your views and a correction will be published if appropriate.